Going by the book

PUBLISHED: 12:22 04 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013

Sue Ryan

Sue Ryan

Former Managing director of The Daily Telegraph Sue Ryan reveals how she founded the Henley Literary Festival...

When your contacts book includes the personal telephone numbers of Boris Johnson, India Knight, Sir John Mortimer, Jeremy Paxman and Martin Bell, and they agree to appear, and Andrew O'Hagan says that yours is set to be one of the best literary festivals in the country, chances are it will be. But the founder of the Henley Literary Festival, Sue Ryan, former managing director of The Daily Telegraph, wasn't so sure when she came up with the original idea.

"I never worried in the slightest about making big decisions when I was at The Telegraph - choosing the front page stories and what stories we should run," says Sue. "But this was frightening, not knowing if there would be the money to pay for it or if the audiences would come."

The first Festival was a huge success in 2007 and this autumn the publishers have again sent their top authors.

When Sue came up with the idea, she wanted it to be "conversational and community driven", and because she knew so many authors personally, she also knew what they wanted from such an event.

"Henley had been my place for family, friends, gardening and housework so I decided to make the town that I loved my centre of gravity. But what I had going for me more than anything else was my contacts book. These top writers felt confident that I could pull it off and they believed Henley had all the right ingredients, so they agreed."

Without a budget though, Sue had to find venues and a sponsor in just a few short months. "When we were asking the Town Council to support us - which they did - one of the councillors had argued against it saying 'think of how many plants we could buy for the money'. I thought that was ineffably sad that she wasn't interested in growing minds." The River and Rowing Museum obliged and The Co-operative Bank agreed to be sponsors, both in the first year and again for 2008.
With the second Festival opening this month, Sue says: "What I hoped for more than anything else was for Henley's creative and artistic community to come together - and that is happening."

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